Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Keeping it Local

It hit me when I woke up two Sunday mornings ago in Auburn AL. Or rather it felt like several people and a baseball bat hit me. I wasn't quite sure what to make of the intense aches in my shoulders but since it was a travel day, I shrugged it off and we made our way to the airport in Atlanta. About the time we had finished our climb out, it hit me good. I knew for certain at that point I was sick but I had no idea that I would still not be 100% two weeks hence: whatever I still have while I write this is truly mean.

There was no way that I could hike last Sunday; I could barely walk from the sofa to the bathroom. This week I have been feeling progressively less crappy and so I thought we might try a short hike. Our wanderings take us all over the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia, up to a couple hours away from home. Rarely do we hike here at home but because I have been ill for the last two weeks, I wanted a short hike a short distance from home which is how we came to pick Eagle Rock right here in Frederick County.

The Trail Head on VA55/US48
Tuesday we got a foot of snow down in the valley followed by a couple of warmer days with cold nights, a sure recipe for ice at elevation. Saturday night, the forecast was for a bit more snow overnight. I did not particularly want to chance fresh snow over hidden ice, so we went to bed Saturday night thinking that we would probably be hiking elsewhere at lower elevation. But Sunday morning it was obvious that it never got as cold as predicted and the forecast snow was mainly a misty rain. And so we took a chance that conditions would be passable up on the mountain.

The misty rain down in the valley turned to superfine snow up at the trailhead, where the Tuscarora Trail crosses highway 55 on the VA-WV border. Being up in this part of the county where the ridgeline of Great North Mountain forms the border between the two states, it is easy to see why we have so many snow days in the county, even when roads down in Winchester are easily passable. Living near town, we tend to forget how rugged the far western part of our own county is.

Paddy Mountain Left, Little Sluice Right
To start our 8th hike* of our 52-Hike Challenge in 2017, we climbed up from the road to the ridgeline through the spitting snow. The trail at this point was mostly clear as we ascended through varying parts of the forest, first an oak grove with lots of lichen-covered rocks, and then through a section of mountain laurel with each leaf outlined in white from the gently falling snow. The snow was so fine that it was like powdered sugar. Seeing everything dusted in powdered sugar was so beautiful. And I needed that beauty to distract me for I was feeling terrible and moving slowly. Ann would walk 100 yards and turn around and I would be 50 yards behind her already. But I knew that if I just kept moving, I could make the entire 7.5 miles of trail.

*Yep, if you're doing the math, this is week 12 of the year, and we've only got in 8 hikes so far because of illness and weather. Going to be tough to get 52 in, but we're still after it.

Mountain Laurel in the Snow

Fresh Snow on a Log

Turkey Tracks in the Snow
Making our way north along the ridge, we passed a small microwave tower and then approached a much larger one further down. The power line cut coming up from the east was a great place to stop and look down on the road that we drove in getting here.

Short Mountain Left, Paddy Mountain Right
Shortly thereafter, we came upon a trailside cairn that Ann greatly admired. I'm conflicted by these cairns. LNT (leave no trace) says we shouldn't disturb the natural surroundings that we are visiting, but in a way, cairns are artwork that I find attractive. The subtle hypocrisy in LNT is that our boots and our trekking poles leave their marks anyway.

Trailside Cairn
As I was pondering the LNT aspects of cairns, I came across this stacked stone wall alongside the trail. So much for leaving no trace. Our marks are all over this planet. This could be scene in a Robert Frost poem, no?

Stacked Stone Wall in the Woods
From the second cell tower, the ridge starts to descend towards Dry Gap where VA690/Capon Springs Grade pierces the mountains and provides east-west passage between Virginia and West Virginia. The snow drifts became much higher on the slopes down to and away from the gap. In places such as in the photo below, the drifts were a couple of feet deep. We were fortunate in that someone had been through earlier in the week and had already postholed the trail so that we could follow in his footsteps, a much easier task than breaking trail in deep snow. Still, the snow would grasp and suck at our boots and trekking poles and the going in these parts was slow.

Some Drifts Were Deep

Dry Gap
Down in the gap, we saw the first and only Great Eastern Trail blaze of the day. I vaguely recall hearing about such a trail, but it wasn't top of mind. It is a western AT alternative that runs between Alabama and western NY. I don't believe that the trail is fully built or blazed at this time, and is mainly co-located on bits and pieces of other established trails, such as the Tuscarora on which we were walking.

Great Eastern Trail, Who Knew?

Climbing to Eagle Rock

Rock Formation at Eagle Rock

More Rocks

Cement Bench at Overlook: "Capon Springs & Farms"

Turkey Vulture Over Frederick County

Peak after Peak in the Great North Mountain Complex

Eagle Rock

Eagle Pose on Eagle Rock

Panorama at Eagle Rock

Up at the east-facing Eagle Rock, we were fortunate that the wind was coming out of the west and so we were able to brush the snow off the bench and sit with our backs to the wind and enjoy our lunch. After a bunch of pictures and lunch, we headed back towards the car retracing our route. I found a second wind and a new gear on the way back and that trip was much faster: an hour and thirty-five minutes back to the car versus two hours and twenty minutes out.

Back at the car, we pulled onto 55 from the shoulder where we parked and rapidly accelerated down the mountain in the direction of Winchester. I have often felt a bit carsick when coming off the trail, but nothing like this. To be experiencing the world at 2.5mph for hours and then to suddenly rocket to 60mph in seconds can be very disorienting. After a couple minutes of discomfort, the feeling went away.

In the spirit of staying local, for our post-hike beer, we decided to drop in to Winchester Brew Works, a nanobrewery in town that has been open about 10 months. Now that Ann is coming around to drinking real beer, we can expand our brewing horizons. She enjoyed the dry stout and I enjoyed the Cascade Falls IPA. The beers are all well made and this is certainly a welcome addition to Winchester.

Cascade Falls IPA
It was a good day, even if it started really slowly for me. It was great to discover both great hiking and great beer here in Frederick County.

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